LunarFest 2021: Whispers of the Soul ballet dancers share emotional stories of family separation in pandemic

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      This year's LunarFest celebrations in Vancouver are celebrating family connections. 

      In fact, the home page on the LunarFest website is anchored with this statement by Michael J. Fox: "Family is not an important thing—it's everything!"

      Today, LunarFest is offering a virtual world premiere of Coastal City Ballet's Whispers of the Soul production, which has been choreographed by Justine Fraser.

      As Fraser explained to the Straight last week, the storyline is about a young girl, played by Brazilian Gabriela Mores, who feels lost but who finds her way with the help of butterflies.

      You can watch the entire ballet on the LunarFest website or below.

      Video: Coastal City Ballet's Whispers of the Soul, which was performed as part of LunarFest in Vancouver.

      Often when people watch a ballet, they aren't always aware of what's going on in the minds of the dancers, choreographer, and artistic director.

      Whispers of the Soul includes many performers who've come to Vancouver to join Coastal City Ballet from other countries.

      The international dancers been separated from loved ones for more than a year due to the pandemic.

      But it's also been difficult for the Canadians in the company because they haven't been able to perform in public and some of them are also separated from parents and siblings.

      Below, you can read their thoughts, as well as those of the choreographer and artistic director, on what family means for them.

      These are touching stories—and we encourage you to read all of them if you have the time.

      Lilah Fitzgerald

      Ever since I could talk, I would say one thing: I wanted to be an actorsingerdancer—all one word, just like that. Because to me, it was one thing. It was my future. My family lived on a ski hill in the Okanagan, with the idea of big cities and bigger dreams a distant fantasy. But to me, it was all that existed. All that mattered. And thankfully, my mother listened to my dreams, and made them into a reality. 

      In Justine Fraser’s ballet, a young village girl has wild hopes of exploring the world beyond her community. As she falls asleep, she dreams of what it’s like beyond the small town she knows. 

      In my life, I would fall asleep in the backseat of our car as my mom drove across the Coquihalla mountain pass to get me to my auditions here in Vancouver. Six hours, each way. 

      In the ballet, our heroine travels to three worlds and learns three important lessons: Hope, Wisdom, and Community. 

      In my life, my mom opened the doors to every opportunity available. She said “yes” to every single thing she could. She supported my acting, my dancing, my singing, and everything else I set my sights on. 

      In the finale of the ballet, the village girl returns to her home filled with new respect and appreciation for her community. 

      In my life, my mother has stood by me in every adventure I’ve set my eyes on, teaching me to be resourceful, resilient, and confident. Waiting to catch me if I fall, but knowing she’s given me the tools I need to fly. 

      The world is unfathomably large. It would be impossible to see it all in one lifetime. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try. However far I travel, however lost I get, I know I have a home to return to. I know I have someone watching out for me, loving me unconditionally. Where I am now and where I hope to be wouldn’t be possible without my mother—and for her, I am forever grateful.

      Ana Paula Oioli

      I left my small hometown when I was just 16 to move to a big city, by myself, to improve my skills and get a chance of becoming a professional dancer. One year later, I got accepted to the Munich Opera House School in Germany and I left my home country to finally be in a professional school. 

      Some 15 years later, different countries, many experiences and dream roles, I can finally say that I have the maturity to look back and be so very grateful and thankful for my family to always have given me the support, strength and courage to pursue my dreams and keep going, even when things were hard. I would never be able to accomplish the things I did without them.

      This story reminds me about how family is always with you, no matter the distance or time. They are your support and strength in difficult times and the ones that cheer you the most after your accomplishments and victories. We will always be connected and happy having a family and a community, which we can always count on

      Anna Beatriz Ferreira da Silva

      I come from a small town in Brazil and I'm here in Vancouver dancing away from my family. This presentation will allow them to watch even from another country, because I miss my parents supporting me every time I dance. This presentation also helped me to feel that feeling of being on stage.

      Angela Lorenz

      My family feels a little bit different than the one in the ballet. My mom always said that she raised me for the world, so "leaving" them was never a problem. I was incentivised to live my life in my own way, that being close to them or 11,000 kilometres from home I am always with them. So far I've lived in four different cities and no matter the distance, my family was always there for me.

      Anna Robinson

      My family is grateful to have the opportunity to see me dance. We are very fortunate that COVID-19 has not separated us. It’s been a full year since I have performed on-stage and my family has watched me dance. Whispers of the Soul will be a bright highlight for what has been a difficult year. It’s been a long wait with COVID-19 and having something to look forward to lifts all our spirits. My family and I are so thankful that Coastal City Ballet and Justine Fraser are finding a way for us to perform and is bringing us together even with families who are not from Vancouver. I am very excited to share this amazing production with you all! 

      Barbara Guerreiro

      Coming from a small town in Brazil, this performance touches me when thinking about all the values we sometimes don’t understand while being home and when we leave, we notice how important they are. Being able to perform during this time after so long without being on stage is such a pleasure and the online factor turns out to be something good because anyone will be able to watch no matter where they are, my family will be able to see and also friends who don’t live around here. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to it. 

      Brenda Goncalves

      I was always a girl who had a lot of dreams and I worked to follow them. Sometimes, things weren't easy, but I'm really lucky to have a family that is always by my side dreaming with me. I have a beautiful life and they are the key for that. I'm far from them now, but we're still so close. I was raised to grow in my life alone, doing everything I wanted and facing my own consequences. This life was always like a rollercoaster with a lot of ups and downs, but they're here to support me. I found my own essence and I'm trying to keep going with this in every place that I go.

      I'm really grateful for them and the most important lesson I learned from them was "Dream awake".

      Carissa Logan

      Family are the people you can always rely on, the ones who support you, and are the ones who love you unconditionally. This past year we’ve all had to endure many obstacles however, the one constant I’ve had is my family. Family can also be the ones we aren’t related to, but the people we choose to spend time with when we aren’t with our immediate families. I consider all the members of Coastal City Ballet to be my family and am so excited we have the opportunity to be back on stage together. 

      Erick Aguirre

      I was born in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. My family and I moved around Mexico because my father’s job was changing constantly. We lived in so many places that I can’t count all of them. Even though we moved a lot we were always a really close family; we always stayed together for everything. 

      I left my home (that’s where my family is living, not a specific place) when I was 16 and after that I kept moving to different places until I arrived here in Canada. 

      It’s been two years now without seeing my family, and every day is harder to be away. I love what I’m doing and I know this is the way, but it would be nice to see them once or twice a year. That’s the main reason why this performance is so important for me and for everybody. We have been losing a lot in this pandemic and we’ll never be the same after this, but we have more than one year accumulated in our hearts that will come out as soon we get onstage. 

      I’m really grateful to be here and I’m happy to share this with everybody.

      Felicia Wu

      From a young age, my family has instilled strong values in me, which gave them the confidence to trust in my decisions growing up. They have always supported me, doing everything they can to help me reach my goals. Though we may not always be together in the same place, I know they always have my best interest at heart and will always support me no matter what.

      Gabriela Mores dances the lead role in Whispers of the Soul.

      Gabriela Mores

      I see a lot of myself in the role I am portraying in this ballet. I came from a very small town in Brazil, where everybody knows everybody, and just like the girl from Whispers of the Soul, I did not want to stay there. I wanted to experience more than just what my small town had to offer, and with that I ended up not liking it as much.  Katie (Coastal City Ballet artistic director), Mr. Li (founder of Coastal City Ballet), and Mauricio (artistic director of Promodanca, the festival where I was invited to train at Coastal City Ballet) are my "butterflies"—they guided me and gave me the opportunity to get out of my hometown and see more.

      After being away from home I have learned that I really love my family and I am proud of where I came from.  I love all the new experiences I have been able to have, but I also will never forget my origins. I am so grateful to my family and community that I grew up in for all their support and for making me the person I am today.

      Giovanni Rizzo

      My family has always supported me in my dreams and I am forever grateful for that. They have been there whenever I have a need—whether financially, emotionally, or mentally. It was hard for my mom to let me go, but she understood that I needed to venture from home to follow my dream of being a professional dancer. I am excited that she will finally get a chance to see me perform outside of my home country. 

      Igor Gomes

      I would like to say a big thanks to LunarFest for giving us the opportunity to perform. The last 11 months have been hard for everyone, especially for some of us newcomers to Canada that have to experience this whole situation far away from our family. But this performance brings me some joy—my family hasn’t seen me dance in a long time and the feeling that they will have the chance to see me perform on stage after all those years makes me happy. 

      Jordan Cooper

      I remember receiving an email over the winter break; we were finally getting the opportunity to perform a real ballet on a real stage. For the first time in over a year, I was going to be able to do what I truly love. As Iʼm sure is the case with most performing artists, this past year has been hard for me. Being unable to perform, create, and learn in the ways we are so used to left me unmotivated and disinterested. When I found out we were doing the show, I suddenly found my old drive, I was once again looking forward to the future.

      This can be extrapolated to the journey of the main character in Whispers of the Soul. She was bored with the monotony of her life and struggled to see the value in her every day. After exploring the three realms and learning valuable lessons along the way, she came to find excitement in her life once again. Being part of this piece has taught me to work in new ways, and to appreciate each moment of our lives.

      Marco Escalante

      In September 2009, I was not a dancer and a friend asked me to participate in a performance because there were no boys in her school. I would never have imagined myself dancing before because—besides ballet is “just for girls”—there is no one in my family who is an artist by profession.

      That performance changed my life, to look at my whole family after the show, in the front row, and with open arms, with tears in their eyes and with smiles of admiration and, surprise… there’s where my path began: in the support of my family. Years later, after doubts about the career path, about money, and the future, they are my pillar, they are my certainty.

      On September 14, 2019, at 4 a.m. in Mexico City International Airport were my two siblings, my parents separated but reunited, two of my best friends, and the future awaiting. A hug that lasted seconds felt like hours stays with me today, February 1, 2021. 

      One does not understand what “the last time” means, one does not know the eternity that holds until “see you soon”... one does not always value.

      A time of prolonged uncertainty and my certainty is thousands of miles to the south. The opportunity, the hope, resides in the act that’s happening now. All I can do is to carry them in my mind and heart in each of my dance steps. After a year and a half that I have not seen them, I will know that they are there; I will know that in a non-temporary space... They are there, they are all there. I know that by looking at the cameras in this show, I won't be looking at a cold object, but rather the possibility of hugging my family after the show.

      Olivia Patiakas

      To me, this new ballet has really allowed me to reflect on this past year. The central message of the ballet that I most connect with is the importance of unity and sharing our experiences with those around us that we care about.

      Our main character goes on a journey to realize what values are truly most important and returns home with a new found sense of joy. This time last year I was studying abroad to pursue my dreams as a dancer and my time at my school was cut short because of the pandemic, and with it all the milestones and experiences I had my heart set on before graduating.

      However, when I look back, despite those disappointments it meant I got to spend time with my family at home which I had not been able to do for many years. Returning to dance and joining Coastal City Ballet this season allowed me to express that feeling of belonging in this new work that I am so excited to perform.

      Samuel Ramos

      My family has not had the chance to see me perform for a long time. With this opportunity, they will finally get to see me perform. I am so happy to have the chance to perform for them, seven though they are thousands of miles away. It’s been a tough year for all of us and I feel so privileged to get the chance to be onstage once more, doing what I love. 

      Shiho Okada

      I am happy that my family will be able to get to see me dance. With them in Japan, the time difference usually makes it too difficult for us to connect. With a virtual performance, they will finally get the chance to see me and I am so excited. 

      Thys Armstrong

      My dance family has been supporting me since a very young age. They include all my dance friends, my teachers, dance partners, mentors and so many more. In particular, the community in Vancouver has been very crucial to my understanding of what community means. It has become even clearer throughout this pandemic. The dance community has come together in a way I always believed was possible. Seeing everyone come together has lifted my spirits and hopes, not just for dance, but for all of us in general. 

      Ysadora Dias

      With this performance, my family finally has the opportunity to watch me dance with Coastal City Ballet. It’s something I never thought would be possible because they are so far away. I am especially grateful that my grandmother, my person, will get to watch me. I will be thinking of her smiling face when I look into the cameras.

      Choreographer Justine Fraser drew inspiration for her ballet from coping with grief over the death of her mother.

      Justine Fraser (choreographer)

      This piece was inspired by the idea that at the end of the day, despite our differences, humanity connects us all and that the feeling of connectedness, we often associate with the word “family”, can grow to include much more than our immediate bloodline. 

      Like many individuals this year, in the spring of 2020, my family experienced a very difficult loss. My mother passed away at the end of May, after a difficult battle with Cancer. Throughout my journey to heal, I have been both humbled and reminded of the fact that despite our differences, we are truly all the same; inextricably connected by our shared human experience. At some point, we will all experience loss, joy, pain, hope, and suffering. 

      Throughout the events of the past year, I have been continually reminded that our most vulnerable moments are always when we are the most human. Coincidentally, these moments are also often the times when we feel the most connected to one another, despite our different backgrounds, cultures, scenery, and/or bloodlines.

      It has been through difficult circumstances that I have learned, that even when we find ourselves on what can sometimes feel like the darkest path, we are never truly alone. A shared human experience connects us all, binding us together and expanding our definitions of family. 

      The storyline of this ballet, is meant to reflect my own personal journey in both moving forward after hardship and watching my own definitions of family be challenged and expanded. The storyline is meant to emphasize the belief that if we can learn to work and live together, while also embracing all cultures, backgrounds, values, and beliefs, we can move forward as a stronger, more resilient, humble, and kind generation of beings. 

      Katrina Bois (artistic director)

      When I think of the phrase "family is everything" two very distinct ideas come to mind.

      At first glance, it seems to me that "family is everything" implies that family is important. I would most definitely agree. I am blessed with a family that supported my dreams of pursuing the arts and allowed me to make choices for my life at a very young age. I am also blessed with my own family. Raising a young daughter, I often reflect on the value that I would like to teach her as she grows and Whispers of the Soul portrays many of them.

      But at second glance, I see that "family is everything" is also, in some ways, a definition. With multiracial relationships, mixed-race children, second marriages, half siblings, nonbiological parents or grandparents, generational gaps, and so much more, my family is a real life version of Modern Family. I realize that so many families these days are not defined in any traditional way. But family is love. Family is support. And aside from that, family can be anything.